While Covid-19 struck the world, many of us retreated into the confines of our homes. For me, this meant returning to a habit I had long lost: reading.
In 2020, from late March through the end of the year, I read 108 books. That is the most I have read since I was in high school! Combined with short stories, novellas, comics, audio books, and novel, this has allowed me to immerse myself in the world of many characters, new and old, big and small.
I mean, look at all these books I’ve read! Pages upon pages! I don’t think I ever thought I’d read this much again!
But, upon reading this many books, as expected, I’ve learned some things about, well, me as a reader. My tastes changed; books I rated 5 stars earlier this year might not be rated 5 stars now…or books I rated lower might receive a higher rating if I were to return to them. This of course is expected with any sort of hobby: you change.
So I wanted to take a moment to highlight some things I’ve discovered as a reader this year. Below consists of only my opinions, so do not take them to heart. In addition, since I am a writer, the way I look at and analyze books varies compared to someone who reads for fun. (But I do read for fun! Just I notice random things that others might not!)
- I’m *more* critical when it comes to fantasy books
One of the first things I discovered was how critical I became of fantasy books. Don’t get me wrong…I love fantasy! I write fantasy! But there is a trap a lot of writers fall into: lack of worldbuilding, too much worldbuilding, lack of originality, or lack of characterization. This can occur with any book, but it’s most notably with fantasy – especially when you’re climbing beyond the paranormal realm. I think this is due in part to the need to create things that didn’t exist before.
Being a fantasy writer myself, I am picky. I notice things I would have done or not done. But one thing I make sure is to NEVER compare the author to me. That is utterly repulsive to do so – this is the author’s story. Not mine. Even if I didn’t like where their vision went, I won’t say “well I could do this better”…because maybe I can’t!
- I’m *less* critical of contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and non fiction.
I am far less critical of genres I don’t write, particularly contemporary, historical, and non fiction. Often this is due to the realism of these situations, and often times, the research I know needs to go into these. More often than not, my rating has to do more with what keeps my interest.
- Pacing is important to me
I’ve found that I have a sweet spot of what I consider “good pacing” for a novel. Something that is too fast, throwing characters from one situation to another, will leave my head spinning. A book that meanders too long before getting to an inciting incident will bore me. There’s that sweet spot that is entirely subjective. In both cases too, it’s a matter of how the authors handle it: sometimes a fast paced book works perfectly (especially when it’s tongue-in-cheek or supposed to be more light hearted). Other times, a slow book is great as well (especially if it gives us insights into the characters). There really has to be that nice sweet spot for me, and I can’t completely describe it.
- My *least* favorite genre is *still* romance
While I will read romance, it is still my least favorite genre (of the genres I will read. I still won’t read erotica or Christian Fiction). Don’t get me wrong, I have read some adorable romances this year, but often times I need more. In addition, I’m picky with my romance tropes: I don’t like soul mates (much), I dislike “dream connections”, I am one of the few who shies from enemies-to-lovers, and I am wary of any romances that base themselves around uncomfortable sexual situations. Some people might like these situations, but unless they are done just right, they don’t work for me. In addition, any book that is contemporary romance will be *much* harder for me to get into; some will work, some won’t. But overall, it is still the genre I am most picky about.
- I don’t like books with too many *named* characters
I’ve seen this in quite a few books (especially ones that are on the shorter side). Some authors feel the need to name every character, or provide a large cast of named individuals, some of whom don’t really stand out from the pack. While yes, a lot of books have many characters, when you throw me into a scenario that has 20 people in its significant cast and the book itself is only 250 pages, it is harder for me to get into the plot or to connect with the characters.
- Middle Grade books aren’t *just* for kids
One thing I’ve done this year is read a lot of middle-grade books! This is mostly due to audio books – middle grade novels just have fantastic production quality when it comes to audio! They’re simplistic enough to pay attention to, but are some of the most entertaining stories. I’ve even picked up a number of physical and ebook copies of middle grade novels as well. I do find that I am less critical of these stories too because, come on, they’re for kids!
- My favorite POV is deep third person. Least favorite is the omnipresent narrator.
I still hold that I love deep third person POV. The ability to switch between characters (but limiting it by chapter or section), allows me to see more of the story. First person isn’t that bad either, but I do find that the characters feel more similar since I am reading them as *me* to an extent.
But what I really struggle with is the omnipresent narrator. I’ve gotten used to this form of narration, but often I have to backtrack to figure out who is thinking once. That’s not to say some authors don’t do this well, and in those cases the POV doesn’t matter as much to me.
- I will notice bad writing or grammar…but often I can overlook it.
The writer side of me DOES notice the bad writing and grammar. I recognize the passive voice, when people are “telling” rather than “showing”, and if there are grammatical errors. Not all readers will notice this.
And that’s why I can overlook it. I understand that not ALL individuals have the money or means to hire an editor, or perhaps English isn’t their first language.
BUT! If the grammar is absolute horrible, I may end up DNFing the book. There is a fine line between what I am able to tolerate and what I cannot, after all.
- I want to connect with the characters
This goes back to pacing and POV. I want to understand and connect with the characters. Let me see that they hate mashed potatoes, or that they close themselves off in times of fear. Let me sense their love, and worry for their survival. This is why I like that slower pacing and deeper POV. It’s because I love getting to know the characters.
- I love reading.
I can finally say it again. I love to read as much as I love to write. If I don’t read anything one day, I feel weird. I’d rather sit with a book than watch TV or play video games. Words are my forte. I never want to leave them.
I am sure I can think of more things I’ve discovered, but these are the many things I’ve noticed over the past year. As I tackle more books, I am sure I will discover more things I like (or dislike) about books.
But no matter how my tastes change, I will always be honest and fair in my reviews. I think most books do indeed have redeemable qualities, so when I rate a book, I want to use my best discretion.
So let’s see what journey books take me on this year!
Until next time,